Book Critique – Dragon's Child (The King Arthur Trilogy # 1)

For review of all books in the series, go here

Stars: 4.5 / 5

Recommendation: A known legend that is turned to fiction in the clever hands of an author who knows how to spin a great tale around a legend, keeping those historical events within the web and adding elements from an author's perspective.

Dragon's Child is the first book in The King Arthur Trilogy by M. K. Hume published first in March of 2009. The trilogy provides the epic tale of the man who was destined to become King Arthur. In this first book, author Hume takes us through his rising from a 12 year old boy to become a Celtic war chief called as Warrior of the West.

This is one of those books I picked at a library sale for a few reasons - a) the cover of the first book caught my attention; b) the author's name some how reminded me of A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, the eleventh president of India. (Don't ask me why); c) Something about Arthur and his reign always intrigued me; and lastly d) I thought it was an Arthurian story set in modern century (you have no idea how wrong I was). Well, anyways, here is the review of the book.

Twelve year old, Artorex "Artor", living under the shelter of Lord Ector in Villa Poppinidii as a person of no status, is suddenly pulled into a world of warriors where he gets training of every kind - Blade and Shield; Horse and Fire; and finally Pain and Bravery! Eventually grows into the Steward of Villa Poppinidii, from where he rises to become the Celtic war chief called as Warrior of the West.

This being a tale spun around an already legendary and somewhat fantasy tale of King Arthur, there are several references to actual historical events and characters that surrounded King Arthur, Merlin and Camelot. For some I had to do Google and read a bit about it before I could follow the flow of the plot. This reduced my pace of reading the book.

Being that the plot is set in late 5th century and early 6th century, author Hume uses a lot of phrases and words that would perhaps pertain to that era or somewhat derivatives of English, Roman and Latin from that period. However, on closer look she has used maximum of them from 15th or later. Yet it still seems something spoken from the 5th century if we don’t know the origins. Smart move.

The author shows the conflict that Artorex faces at every juncture - of walking the grey lines rather than seeing things black and white, the way of the world. At a very young age when a person can think only in black and white, and understand the greys in between, is a quality that is considered for a good leader. And Artorex certainly proved to be one. 

It always makes me ponder on human emotions especially situations where parent-child are involved. Why would a parent knowing their child is evil still protect and ask others to protect that said child? Why not send that child to authorities?

Author Hume shows a very different perspective of King Arthur with Arotrex - a boy who was forced upon the kingship just because he had birthright but had no desire to take it over. She also shows the petty human mentality of hating a person just because he or she was born a certain way. And that hatred did not end with common man alone, even royals had the same petty feelings. 

Everyone knows the legend of King Arthur, whether he was real or a fiction of historian's imaginations is still debatable. However, Hume took the legend and spun a great tale around that, keeping those historical events within the web and adding elements from an author's perspective. At some places, I fail to see which was Hume's fiction and which was historical fiction that we all have already read and heard of. 

One thing did confuse me though. I had thought King Arthur was a British King, but there are influences of Romans and its culture seen in his upbringing in Hume's version here. Perhaps he is more of a Roman-British warrior who fights for Britain in the wars against Saxons. I had to go back to google and Wikipedia to understand further that he was indeed a Roman-British warrior.

Hume also gives a different spin to the story of Arthur drawing the sword out of the stone. The legendary sword and crown of Uther Pendragon that King Arthur inherits, comes out in quite a different way in the hands of Hume in this tale of Artorex. She also gives a few different villains than what the legend reflects for King Arthur.

It took a while for me to finish the book as I was going back to google for help in connecting the dots between the story that Hume spun for us and the actual legend that everyone is after. I should have guessed that Hume would give appendices at the end that would help reader. She has two appendices - for the various characters, the place names that were then and what are called now. 

All in all Hume spun a very good historic tale for King Arthur in his alter-ego Artorex, keeping the fiction blended with the legend, while adding her own flair to it without leading the readers off the known story. A very nice beginning to the trilogy keeping the reader's interest to continue into the next book. Cant wait to pick it up soon.

Spoiler Alerts:

1. Plot Reveals:

a. References to historical events and characters are seen all through the plot:

i. Sir Gorlois of Tintagel - Duke of Cornwall and husband to Ygerne before Uther Pendragon killed him, raped Ygerne and ends up marrying her because she becomes pregnant.

ii. Giant's Dance of Merlin

iii. Caeser's Gaul Campaign

iv. The Bleeding Pool of Glastonbury referenced by Hume in the novel looks like is based off of Chalice Well - a natural Red Spring. 

b. Morgana, the step-daughter of Uther Pendragon, professes that a child born of russet-hair will end Uther's life. Uther feels threatened with every fair hair child. This prophecy is so similar to a tale in Hindu mythology. Tale about Kamsa, the tyrant ruler of Mathura is professed that the 8th child of his sister Devaki will slew Kamsa. More about it here. But it is so surprising that some of the stories cross-over regions and religions. Perhaps they are same as well as different in their own way.

c. Firth had given a hazel knoll polished and threaded to wear around Gallia's neck. After Gallia's murder, Artorex is given that for remembrance which he wears it around his neck years later which again forms part of the tapestry of King Arthur's legend.

d. Artorex changes his name to Artor when he gets coronated as the High King.

e. Father Lucius of Glastonbury gives Artorex a ring for his left thumb as a gift on being recognized as the High King. Another piece of Arthur that goes into his legend. 

f. Myrddion carries a staff that resembles a great sea serpent. Another piece that will become the legend.

g. Some of the characters who might evolve into the characters from Arthurian Legend:

i. Caius is shown as very wily, wicked and cruel although he mends. But there are signs that he has resorted back to his previous self in this book. Curious to see if M. K. Hume still puts him in King Arthur's Knights of Round Table as the legend goes or will spin a different fate for Caius to make this a fiction. 

ii. Gruffydd is a spy for Myrddion who rescues a Jute child who is named Nimue. Artorex to avoid Morgan's influence has his dragon tattooed on her leg, and claims her as his protégé. Have to wait and see who she becomes from the legend. Gruffydd becomes the sword bearer to Artorex at the end of the plot here. 

iii. Perce - a kitchen helper at Venonae.

iv. Gawayne - third son of King Lot and Queen Morgause (step-daughter of Uther).

v. Simon aka Simeon, a Jewish smith who reforges Uther's sword and remakes the crown for Artorex. He also makes a ring for Artorex's right thumb with a large pearl in it. These also become part of Arthurian legend. The sword is named Caliburn, the Dragon of Britain. 

vi. Pinhead or Pelles - one of Artorex's captains.

h. Artorex makes his base in Cadbury Tor where he envisions to create his headquarters, build a symbol for the Britains.

2. Sub Plots:

a. Uther Pendragon, High King of Sub-Roman Britain, is old and sick. His wife is Ygerne, who was widow of Gorios, the Boar of Cornwall, step-daughters are Morgana and Morgause. Morgana is a seer, a Druid Princess and professes that a woman of yellow hair will be Artorex's downfall, although he will become a great king.

b. Artorex's foster family consists of - Lord Ector, a Celt Lord heading the Villa Poppinidii; Livinia his wife; Caius, his birth son, who is married to Julanna and have a child named Livinia. His teacher, Targo the weapons master. Firth, an old maid at the Villa who looks after Artorex. Bishop Lucius sends Artorex here as a two year old babe, aided by Andrewina Ruadh who saves him at the expense of her life. 

c. Artorex marries Gallia, friend of Julanna from the House of Gallus. They have a girl child, Licia. She is pregnant again with a second child. 

d. It is revealed that Artorex is the son of Uther and Ygerne, a result of Ygerne being raped by Uther.

e. Gareth - great-grandson of Firth who works for Artorex.

f. Bregan the blacksmith, gives Artorex a very finely carved dagger with the dragon of Dracos Legion standard - Winged Worm of the Cetic Kings. It would go on to become King Arthur's legendary dagger. Here it is called as the Dragon Knife of King Artor. 

g. Before the trial for strength at Uther's Hall, Trago gives Artorex two wristbands that bear the Dracos Legion insignia. Again these would go on to become legendary.

h. Llanwith pen Bryn, King of Ordovice; Myrddion Merlinus "Merlin" and Luka, King of Brigante - the three benefactors of Artorex.

i. Andrewina Ruadh had Merlinus loved each other. 

3. Some of old world English and Latin / Roman based English used by the author in the plot:

a. Frigidarium - large cold pool at the Roman baths

b. Caldarium - room with hot bath used in a Roman bath complex.

c. Scriptorium - room set apart for writing manuscripts, especially in a monastery.

d. Catamite - a boy kept for homosexual practices.

e. Pestilence - A fatal epidemic disease.

f. Pannier - a basket carried by beasts of burden.

g. Travail - engage in laborious effort

h. Pederast - old word for a pedophile 

i. Cavalcade - a formal procession of people walking, on horseback, or riding in vehicles.

j. Triclinium - a dining table with couches along three sides, used in ancient Rome.

k. Strigil - an instrument with a curved blade used, especially by ancient Greeks and Romans, to scrape sweat and dirt from the skin in a hot-air bath or after exercise.

l. Dotage - the period of life where one is old and weak.

m. Mien - a person's look or manner. 

n. Dux Bellorum - A war leader or a warlord.

o. Doggerel - Comic verse composed in irregular rhythm.

4. Grammatical / Character / Plot / Geographical / Historical / Mythological Errors:

a. On Pg. 139, Last line, shouldn’t it be "…It will be months…"

b. On Pg. 241, Line 7, the double quotes after High King is not needed.


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